Relaxation and Fitness
Introduction to Spirit Bear Yoga
Grounded Living. Elevated Thinking.
When considering the practice of yoga, it is very important to be aware that Yoga is a HUGE genre. What it means for one person to practice yoga may be very different than what it means for another. The branch of yoga that emphasizes the physical aspect of yoga is called Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga focuses on practicing the asanas – or physical postures/poses – which serve to help strengthen the body and promote balance. In addition, the breath is connected to the postures in a way to help the yogi focus on maintaining or moving through the poses, while enjoying the benefits of mindful breathing. The role of focused breathing in encouraging good health is well documented and recognized. Much of Westernized yoga is Hatha based. That means that most studio yoga classes you will encounter are going to be more geared towards encouraging healthy living through activity and breathing. As a result, yoga practice – especially in the modern West is often limited to mat time, and not a lifestyle choice. The ancient yogis incorporated yoga into their daily lives as a much more integral approach to their existence...
Introduction to the Eight Limbs of Yoga
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline; they direct attention toward one’s health; and they help us to acknowledge the spiritual aspects of our nature.
First Limb: Yama
The first limb, yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct
ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The five yamas are:
- Ahimsa: nonviolence
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Brahmacharya: non-lusting
- Aparigraha: non-greed
Second Limb: Niyama
Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice.
Third Limb: Asana
Asanas, the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third limb of yoga. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, the care of which is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation.
Fourth Limb: Pranayama
Generally translated as breath control, this fourth stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions.
Fifth Limb: Pratyahara
The fifth limb of yoga, pratyahara, comes from two Sanskrit words, prati meaning “against” or “away” and ahara, which means “food.” For our purposes, we can refer t o ahara as ANY stimuli we take in and ingest. The essence of pratyahara is “withdrawal of the senses” or mindfully filtering what we experience in our outer world.
Sixth Limb: Dharana
Too often we get caught up in the busyness of our lives and lose sight of our life’s purpose. The last three limbs of yoga are known as samyama, the pathway to the true light of knowledge. Dharana is the sixth limb of yoga and the essence means “one-pointed attention,” teaching us how to focus our attention on the present moment.
Seventh Limb: Dhyana
Meditation or contemplation, the seventh stage of ashtanga, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be one and the same, a fine line of distinction exists between these two stages. Where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. At this stage, the mind has been quieted, and in the stillness it produces few or no thoughts at all.
Eighth Limb: Samadhi
Samadhi: Union with the Divine
Breaking the word in half, we see that this final stage is made up of two words; ‘sama’ meaning ‘same’ or ‘equal’, and ‘dhi’ meaning ‘to see’. There’s a reason it’s called realization – and it’s because reaching Samadhi is not about escapism, floating away or being abundantly joyful; it’s about realizing the very life that lies in front of us.
Introduction to the Chakra System
Chakras are the mechanism by which emotions and ideas affect your physical body and vice versa.
Chakras can be thought of as a guide or blueprint for self-care and healthy living. There are seven main chakras in yogic study. Chakra means wheel or disk in Sanskrit. In our yoga practice, we work to keep all these energy points “spinning” and in balance. This balance is attained by the continuous, steady flow of Prana, or life force energy. When the flow of Prana becomes irregular, however, chakra energy centers become unbalanced. A chakra can be spinning too quickly or slowly – causing issues in our physical bodies and mental state.
First Chakra: The Root Chakra
Sanskrit name: Muladhara
Petals of the lotus: Four
Seed sound: LANG
Psychological function: Survival and self preservation
Poses: mountain, goddess, 5 point star, forward folds, child’s pose, staff, bridge, Apanasana(knees to chest), corpse, garland
Affirmations: I am grounded. I am secure. I am welcome, wanted and supported.
Second Chakra: Sacral Chakra
Located in the lower abdomen, the second chakra governs the Watery processes in the body. While the first chakra (root) is masculine and focused on self-preservation, the Sacral 2nd chakra is feminine and focused on life’s pleasures. A balanced second chakra helps you connect to others in a healthy, trusting way through deeper awareness of your emotions. Working on the energy associated with this chakra helps you see the bigger picture to rise above your likes and dislikes and recognize all things as part of the whole. You work to become more fluid and graceful and accepting of change when balancing this chakra.
Third Chakra: Solar Plexus Chakra
If you have not worked with the needs and pleasures of your 1st and 2nd chakra, it is difficult to awaken Manipura. It helps to have a strong sense of grounding and a healthy rein on desire to clearly define and visualize your purpose. The 3rd Chakra (above navel, below base of sternum) deals with your motivation and ambition...
Fourth Chakra: Heart Chakra
The heart chakra is composed of yellow and blue in equal parts. It is at the heart center where the energies of the lower chakras (when satisfied) can be transformed and integrated into a more spiritual aspect of your being. This awareness allows you to connect to something greater and deeper than yourself (explored through the energies of the upper chakras).
Fifth Chakra: Throat Chakra
The 5th chakra is about communication – not only in expressing your true self, but also about listening deeply to others. An open 5th chakra allows one to be open and honest, to say no when you need to and let others be heard as well. Creative expression is strong when this chakra is balanced and open. Forms of music, singing, dance, writing, and speaking are expressions of this chakra’s energy.
Sixth Chakra: Third Eye Chakra
The sixth chakra, Ajna, is in the area of the third eye, which is found in the space between the eyebrows. It encompasses the pituitary gland, eyes, head, and lower part of the brain. An invisible yet powerful third eye, this is your center of intuition. A spiritual chakra, which means “beyond wisdom,” Ajna leads you to an inner knowledge that will guide you if you let it. An open sixth chakra can enable lucid dreaming, expanded imagination, and visualization.
Seventh Chakra: Crown Chakra
The seventh chakra, Sahasrara, is referred to as the thousand-petal lotus chakra. This is the top chakra of the seven and located at the crown of the head. Sahasrara is our source of enlightenment and spiritual connection to all that is. It is a connection to our higher selves, to every being on the planet, and ultimately the divine energy that creates everything in the universe.